Stimulus Watch: Education Money Gets Defined Goals
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The Department of Education is rolling out $44 billion in aid to schools from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act this month, along with clearer guidelines on how those funds should be used.
Since the stimulus package was passed earlier this year, states have been waiting with bated breath for the green light to send in their applications for the first round of funding, which represents two-thirds of the state stabilization money set aside for education. The application asks states to include a plan to meet four main policy goals:
College Preparedness. The Department of Education (DOE) wants to see data on what types of assessments states have for ensuring their students are college or career ready. “States have to take a look at what they do to make an assessment, and whether they should use funding to build that out,” said Sandra Abrevaya, a spokeswoman for the DOE.
Education Data Systems. Schools must be able to connect student-achievement data to individual teachers and track students from high school through college graduation. It's a national strategy for the federal government to see how states are competing with each other, and part of the administration's call for transparency. "The first step toward real and lasting reform that will ensure our students' competitiveness begins with absolute transparency and accountability in how we invest our dollars, educate our children, evaluate our teachers, and measure our success,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a recent statement. “We must be much more open and honest about what works in the classroom and what doesn't."
Teacher Quality. This has been one of the buzzwords of Obama’s administration. The DOE wants to see improvements in teacher effectiveness, and equitable distribution of high-quality teachers. Schools will need to start by labeling where their high-performing teachers are. At that point, they have two choices: either redistribute those teachers, or put more highly-qualified teachers in under-served areas. But what defines a highly-qualified teacher is still up for interpretation. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, it means teachers are certified in the subjects they teach, but that definition could expand. “In part, Duncan does encourage assessments of student performance in terms of teacher quality,” Abrevaya said. “But, we’ll also be encouraging new ways to evaluate teachers.”
Support for low-performing schools. The DOE wants to see intensive support for effective intervention of low-performing schools. “We want states to be looking for which schools are low-performing and identifying those they'll be able to turn around,” Abrevaya said.
The application now in the hands of governors helps DOE officials ensure that the money is used for its intended purpose: to save jobs and drive reform in these four areas. “To some extent, it’s an acknowledgment of the things that will be asked of them before they receive the next set of funding,” said Abrevaya. “It’s an upfront acknowledgment of expectations.”